We’re almost half way through the season and I think it’s safe to say that NYCFC has a very large and passionate fan base. You don’t even need to use the 43k fans at the home opener as your example. NYCFC has averaged over 20k fans so far this season with that average about to get a nice boost on June 28 when the Red Bulls come to town. In other words, this team is past the point of making big splashes just to sell tickets. The fan base is there, it’s large, it’s educated, and, if you read any of the message boards, it’s hungry for some wins.
With that in mind, I thought I’d take a quick look at a few of the rumored moves NYC has been linked to and give my 2 cents on if these moves are taking the team in the right direction.
Andrea Pirlo: this is the big one surrounding the team and has been a hot rumor for a few weeks now. First of all, let me just put out a warning to NYC fans to not believe anything coming out of ESPN. They are the kings of rumors and any NFL fans out there will tell you that the “World Wide Leader in Sports” is not exactly the leader in getting rumors right. Anyways…….
The Pirlo rumors first came about during the winless streak and I felt there was a major pro and a major con at the time. The pro was, besides his experience and soccer knowledge, Pirlo is a free kick specialist and this is something sorely lacking on the field right now. It’s tough for any fan to have confidence when a free kick is taken as NYC doesn’t have someone who can curl the ball around the wall and they don’t have the players to box out properly and use their strength to win balls. It has shown on the overwhelming majority of corner kicks and we have not seen a free kick goal from this team yet. The Pirlo free kick highlights on Youtube should make any NYCFC fan’s mouth water and forget that Lampard will also be capable of taking these chances as well. I love Pirlo’s experience and he’s a true winner. On the con side, I felt that this team was just not scoring goals and Pirlo is not necessarily the answer to that problem – David Villa, during the winless streak, was being shut down and there was no one else to take the scoring workload (Ballouchy? Get outta my face). With Didier Drogba to MLS rumors swirling, I went on the record as saying I would prefer Drogba to Pirlo. Since then, we’ve seen two wins and 5 goals from 5 different players and I’ve calmed down a little regarding this issue.
Overall, I think it comes down to length of contract. If this is a Jermaine Jones to New England type of contract (a year and a half), I’m all for Pirlo becoming the third Designated Player for this club. He absolutely has another productive year left in him (currently 36 years old) and the thought of a midfield that includes Pirlo, Lampard, and Mix makes me think this team could easily have a run to playoffs after a very rough start to the season. If Pirlo is looking for longer than 18 months, I would take a hard pass and see if Drogba was still interested in teaming up with Villa up top. Ultimately, this may become irrelevant as Pirlo failed to secure the Champions League title with Juventus and there is still a chance he stays in Italy to try again next season for Europe’s most prestigious club title.
Shay Facey: it was announced over the weekend that NYCFC is looking into extending the loan of Shay Facey past its June 30 deadline, a rumor that was met with positive reviews. I’ll keep this one quick: Facey has been AWESOME the last two games against Philly and Montreal and I’m absolutely in favor of keeping him in New York and developing him as a player. At the same time, he’s still young (20) so a close watch has to be kept as we get into the dog days of summer and schedule gets tougher with U.S. Open Cup and more weekday games. I’m happy to keep him on the roster but Kreis should not be hesitant to make the right move and keep him on a short leash. An 11 game winless streak does not allow for many more lost points in the season. But again, he’s been great and is in my starting 11 for the foreseeable future.
Andoni Iraola: Iraola joined NYCFC over the weekend on a free transfer after spending the last 12 years with Athletic Bilbao in Spain. Iraola is a 32 year-old Right Back and I could not be more excited about this move. Iraola is excellent defender who played on a great team in a great league. Only 5 years ago, La Liga was being hailed as the best in the world along with the British Premier League and Bundesliga. Normally, when I hear about a player like Iraola coming to MLS, I assume it’s a DP, and this would probably be the case if it were another MLS team signing him like Colorado or Columbus, etc. in this case, they’re bringing him in without the DP tag and he will fill the Right Back spot most recently taken up by R.J. Allen. Allen, a Tri-State native, has had his ups and downs this season for the team but I don’t think you’ll find anyone who will argue that Iraola is a huge step up in that position for New York City.
Rewinding a little, I think the big win here for New York is they get a player of this caliber without burning a DP spot. WIngert, Hernandez, Facey and Iraola as your back 4 is excellent, especially with the fantastic play we’ve seen so far from goalkeeper Josh Saunders. If you can then add Pirlo to the midfield with Mix and Lampard with Villa up top, you would probably see Grabavoy and a striker rounding out your lineup for, what I think is a very impressive starting 11 and on that is levels better than the lineup that walked onto the field in late April and May.
Kwadwo Poku: Before I sign off, I thought I’d address the Poku controversy. Fans on message boards and Facebook pages as well as writers on Twitter are begging for this guy to get a start with his effort and performances of late certainly helping the cause. Jason Kreis has gone on the record saying Poku is not 90 minutes ready and happy with his performances off the bench, usually late in the second half of games. This is tough one as he is a fan favorite (and certainly one of my favorites) and was one of the bright spots during the winless streak. There is no doubt in my mind that he was the MVP of the match vs. Montreal – he did all the heavy lifting for Mix’s winner from the steal to the perfect pass and then FINALLY got his first goal of the season minutes after Montreal made a game of it. You couldn’t help but smile for the guy when he was celebrating his goal. The man has worked his tail off and brings an incredible amount of energy into each game he enters.
That being said, I love this guy off the bench. He’s still young and if you bring his fresh legs on in the 75th minute, that is torture for any tired back 4. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders, completely bought into Kreis’ game plan and brings it every game. Now, think about what I wrote above. If you have the starting 11 I suggested, the team becomes that much more dangerous with a speedy Poku becoming a scoring threat late in the second half.
It seems the to me NYCFC is just finding its elusive “other gear” as more reinforcements (with experience) begin to arrive. I like what the front office is doing, making the team in Sky Blue tougher to score on and potentially opening up the field while making them a threat from the spot, a lineup you will not want to foul deep in your own zone. We still need confirmation on a number of these moves but even at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table, the playoffs are not out of sight.